Washington should intervene on behalf of a U.S.-born Uyghur boy who Beijing does not recognize as an American citizen, and whose family members have been targeted for detention in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), according to an exile Uyghur group.
Hemdan Hushtar was born in the U.S. in October 2015 and his mother, Patigul Sadiqjan, returned with the boy to her hometown of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) city, in the XUAR’s Ili Kazakh (Yili Hasake) Autonomous Prefecture, two months later, after obtaining his birth certificate and American passport, Hushtar’s father, Hushtar Reshit, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service.
Sadiqjan went back to the U.S. with Hushtar the following year to get him vaccinated, traveled on with him to Turkey in August 2016, and then returned to Ghulja with the boy in February 2017, said her husband, a permanent resident of the U.K.
Their second trip to Ghuljia came after hardliner Chen Quanguo was appointed Communist Party secretary of the XUAR. By April 2017 he had established a network of political “re-education camps” that have since held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas.
Among those targeted by authorities are Uyghurs who have travelled abroad to countries China deems a risk of promoting “religious extremism,” and Sadiqjan’s passport was confiscated on her return home in 2017. Hushtar, who Beijing does not recognize as holding dual citizenship, cannot travel out of China without his mother, but his father is at risk of detention if he travels to the XUAR.
Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service, Ilshat Hassan, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association, said that Hushtar is an American citizen and that the U.S. must intervene in his case to help him to join his father in the U.K.
“According to the laws of U.S. citizenship, the child was born and registered in America, therefore he is an American citizen,” he said, regardless of whether China recognizes dual citizenship.
“U.S. authorities have the duty to protect … and to safeguard its citizens.”
Hushtar’s father, Reshit, acknowledged that his wife had brought their son home in 2017 on a China travel document—papers issued by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to people who are legally defined as Chinese citizens for their travel to China and other countries.
But he noted that upon arriving in China, Hushtar was issued a “double household” registration and deemed to be an American citizen when registering with local police and government offices, adding that the boy is in possession of a U.S. passport that is valid until 2020.
When asked whether Washington would intervene on Hushtar’s behalf, a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing told Reshit “there does not appear to be any direct action we can take,” as China refuses to recognize the boy’s American citizenship.
“The Chinese government often will not permit the U.S. Embassy to provide consular assistance to you if you have entered China on any type of travel document other than a U.S. passport with a valid Chinese visa,” the embassy staffer said in a letter.
“Therefore, given that your son entered China on a travel certificate issued by the Chinese government rather than his U.S. passport containing a valid Chinese visa, he will be regarded by the Chinese authorities as a Chinese citizen only and will not have the rights and benefits conferred upon U.S. citizens under the U.S.-China Consular Agreement.”
The embassy said there is nothing that can be done to help Sadiqjan leave China and join her husband, as she is a Chinese citizen.
Hushtar’s father, Reshit, told RFA that he is concerned about the wellbeing of his wife and son, as his wife’s father—a well-known property tycoon in Ghulja—had been arrested in March and sent to the No.1 re-education camp near Ghulja’s Linen Factory for “opening a school, providing assistance to the poor, and traveling to Turkey” in 2014 for his daughter’s wedding.
He said all of the members of seven or eight other successful Uyghur families in Ghulja who attended the wedding had also been rounded up and placed in camps since early 2017, and suggested his wife’s family could face further reprisals from local authorities.
“I hope that they can get out [of China] before [his U.S. passport expires],” he added.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, Shohrat Zakir, chairman of the XUAR, told China’s official Xinhua news agency in October 2018 that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uyghurs.
China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, earlier this month said that some 1.5 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equivalent to just under 1 in 6 members of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR—after initially putting the number at 1.1 million.
Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department's human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union, last week said people "haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s" and called the internment of more than a million Uyghurs "one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today."
In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are "at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million" Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.
Reported by Jilil Kashgary for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.